EU agrees to end geoblocking to boost single digital market

Member states believe the move will encourage European business but there is small print to consider.

The European Parliament has agreed to end "unjustified" geoblocking within Europe in a bid to boost online businesses in the region.

Together with the European Council and European Commission, the parliament said this week that an agreement has been reached to bring in new rules which will end geoblocking on purchases of goods and services.

The deal, which has stemmed from a promise made during the EU's Digital Summit in Tallinn in September earlier this year to cut down on geoblocking practices, will give EU consumers more options when it comes to purchases made in all 28 member states.

"For citizens, this means they will be able to buy their new electrical goods online, rent a car or get their concert tickets across borders as they do at home," the government body said. "It will ensure that they no longer face barriers such as being asked to pay with a debit or credit card issued in another country. For businesses, this means more legal certainty to operate cross-border."

Consumers will be allowed to purchase goods from any member state by default, instead of being forced to relocate to a country-local domain which may offer a more limited selection of goods, or higher prices.

For example, a Spanish consumer will be able to purchase a trip directly from a French website, without being forcibly redirected to a Spanish domain.

A German consumer who wishes to buy a fridge from a Spanish website will now also have the right to do so.

In the same manner, a Bulgarian who wants to sign up for Italian hosting services can do so and will pay the same rate as a local Italian buyer -- rather than potentially face inflated prices due to their location.

The EU says the new rules will "boost e-commerce for the benefit of consumers and businesses who take advantage of the growing European online market."

However, there are some caveats to consider. The EU has not imposed harmonization of pricing, and there is -- naturally -- no obligation to sell in the first place to a country if it is not already possible.

Delivery issues may scupper some purchases, too. If international shipping is not offered by the retailer, then it is up to the buyer to arrange collection or their own deliveries.

Still, it is a step in the right direction for the EU's Digital Single Market strategy, a scheme designed to eradicate regulatory and corporate rules surrounding trades in the region and to move "28 markets into a single one."

"We are upgrading the EU Single Market to the digital world by giving consumers the same possibility to access the widest range of offers regardless of whether they physically enter a shop in another country or whether they shop online," said Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, in charge of Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship, and SMEs. "Next stop: bringing down prices of cross-border parcel delivery, which still discourage people from buying and selling products across the EU."

The rules will come into force by the end of next year, nine months after publication in the EU Official Journal, to give retailers the time required to amend their current business practices.

Earlier this year, the EU upheld a promise to scrap mobile roaming charges. The "roam like at home" decree ensures travelers going from one EU country to another will not have to pay extortionate charges for texts, data, or calls.

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